Branding Your Site: Free Yourself from SERPs!

Is this topic necessary? After all, it is the Internet; just put up a site, offer content, optimize for search engines, and voila! You have hits. Well, maybe you have hits, and maybe you don’t.

And if you do have hits, how long will your traffic grow? How far can you expand? How big can you become? What is the difference between a small, profitable operation like www.internetmarketingsecrets.com, or www.freewebmasterhelp.com, and a large household name like www.devshed.com. I mean, they all offer great content, they all optimize their sites for the SERPs (Search Engine Ranking Pages) but only one of them is a household name, relatively speaking, on the Internet.

The Bad News

In the real (as opposed to virtual) world of traditional marketing, it is the biggest brands that have the largest market share. In fact, market share is not determined by quality of service or excellence of product. It is a question of branding. Does Daimler Chrysler make the best cars? Or does Nokia really make the best phones? If they do, will they still make such great products tomorrow? I answer, who cares? I have my mind made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts!

On the Internet, Google has branded itself as the search engine. The terms “google” and “googling” even made it into the Merriam-Webster dictionary recently to signify using the Google search engine to search online. Despite the distinction of using a lower case letter and the fact that it specifically refers to just the Google search engine, Google risks its name becoming like Levis, which I found in the Oxford Advanced Learners dictionary defined as “jeans.” Amazon has branded itself for books, and eBay for auctions; devshed has branded itself through its network of sites for content — specifically, for information about open source software.

A brand will beat a better product or service ALL the time, not once, not nine out of ten times, but all the time. In traditional marketing, if the customer wants to choose any other product apart from the brand, he will easily find an alternative (a second brand that competes in that space, like Coke and Pepsi). In the online world, however, there usually is no second. Second in a category can spell death (read as “dependence on SERPs”).

So how can you, as a website owner, or a budding e-entrepreneur, do to brand your site, and position yourself in the mind of the man with the mouse, so that instead of searching on Google, he actually types your website into the address bar? In this situation, you no longer worry about continually following up with your visitors; they come to you willingly. Let me share some of the ways you can brand your website and yourself effectively.

If you do anything at all, don’t do this

When searching, I come across sites called www.tonsilshelp.com or www.bestcureforfootdisease.com, or even www.cars.com! Once, one of my clients purchased www.foreigndirectinvestment.com, but thankfully, he let it go. The silliest thing is that these kinds of domain addresses are the ones that are auctioned for extremely high prices, and some Internet marketing “experts” even advise their clients to name their sites after the niche they are in.

There is nothing more forgettable than a generic name. That is what a site like www.business.com is – forgettable. It sounds contradictory; after all, by looking at the domain name, you can tell what the site is about. Yes, but with a million other names like that (ebusiness.com, onlinebusiness.com), your domain name, and hence your brand, is weak because it cannot be differentiated from everybody else.

Do This

Throw out the generic name, and get a proper name. Yahoo didn’t call itself directory.com, Google didn’t itself searchengine.com, and Amazon didn’t call itself ebooks.com. Make sure your name is easy to type and spell. For example, one of my favorite sites on earth is gutenborg.com…or is it gutenbog.com? It must be gotenborg.com, but then I discover that it is a dot org! [And it is actually http://www.gutenberg.org/. --Ed.]

The point is, all this makes it hard for me to get to their site. Fortunately, they offer content that I find nowhere else, so I spend five to ten minutes searching for their site, but sometimes I cant be bothered. Please note: it is a non profit site. Great content is not everything, branding is everything. And naming is integral to branding.

Priceline is not a generic name, it is a proper name, since the two separate words are used out of context. Another good way to name yourself is by shortening your generic name. For example, off line General Electric is becoming GE, and a site like freebooks.com can become freeb.com.

Some other tips for naming include making sure your domain name is one of a kind. As noted, it should be easy to pronounce and spell. In some cases, a shock effect with names can work wonders, as with Yahoo, Napster, or XSAO.net.

Don’t be one of the quickly forgotten sites, dependent on search engines for all your traffic! Start by naming your site well, offer great content, optimize and read on.

A common rule in site branding is to occupy a niche market; this allows you to avoid competing against a larger, more established web site, especially when you are competing in a saturated market. The rule is a good one; if you go against Amazon in the online book business, you are not likely to succeed. However it is not a hard and fast rule. If there is no clear leader in the market, no website that is a strong brand, then even if there are a lot of web sites offering content and sales of products in that field, there is an opportunity to become the leading website through strong branding and on and offline publicity.

Branding is not about being the first to enter the market, but the first to enter the mind of the man with the mouse. When Google came into the search engine business, there were a lot of other search engines such as Lycos, Excite, Ask Jeeves (now Ask) and AltaVista. They were actually big brands; however, Google came and blew them out of water.

Remember, though: Yahoo was first in directories, and Amazon was literally first in online book sales. Being first in a niche is good, but being first in site branding is best. And the only way to be first is speed. Delaying your site branding could deny you the opportunity to become the leading web site in your niche, and could give your competition the chance to leave you dependent on SERPs, forever reading the search engine news to learn new SEO techniques. On the Internet, there is not much space for number two; consider Barnes and Noble’s website versus Amazon’s. That’s the fast part.

Focus, Focus, Focus

Another thing to remember is that your website has to be focused; this is a path that a lot of websites deviate from, to their own peril. Gamezone.com is a game cheats site, while Petersons.com offers educational resources (although now they also do job search) Amazon.com is an online book store, not an online drug store or supermarket; it may have expanded into other areas, but most people still think of Amazon as an online bookstore.

Associating your web site with a lot of things weakens the brand in the mind of the man with the mouse. If he does not know what to associate your site with, then he will simply search the net for the content he wants. Moving quickly without focus will lead to weak site branding. As I noted earlier, Amazon.com is an online bookstore; now it sells practically everything on their web site, but their primary focus is still on books and CDs.

So what does your domain name stand for? What is your web site’s focus?

The Internet provides a world without borders. Your site, written in English, can be accessed by every English speaker on earth, and you can ship a product to anywhere in the world. Depending on your market, you probably don’t have to build two versions of your web site to provide for non-English speakers, since there is a trend towards English being a second language in most parts of the world. But as you grow and try to appeal on a more global scale, you might want different translations of your site. However when in doubt, stay with English.

Building your site to cater to foreign countries will increase your traffic. If you are an online store, it will increase your sales. For a business based in America, having a Latin (Spanish language) site is an option; the extra cost is offset by the amount of hits the site will get from countries in South America. It will also increase your perception as a global website.

Publicity and Advertising

Publicity and advertising will do wonders for your site’s visibility. Celebrities routinely get hundreds of thousands of hits a day on their websites when they have just recently been in the news. Publicize your site; become known as an expert in the field. If your site is concerned with open source programs, for example, give free training workshops and work on community development schemes, get on talk shows, say controversial things like how open source is going to make Microsoft go bankrupt in the next ten years, send free articles to newspapers, and advertise your site. Advertise online through pay per click and affiliate programs. Write articles and submit them across the net. Become a public speaker; send your name to local newspapers indicating that you are an authority. Become your site’s mascot. Huge doses of publicity will do wonders for your hits (as long as other principles are adhered to) and though publicity takes time, it is free, unlike advertising.

A good way to advertise is through search engines’ pay per click programs. Bidding for a key word relevant to your site’s content ensures visibility on search engines. Paid submission of your commercial web sites to paid directories such as Yahoo! can also be quite helpful in branding your site.

Concluding Thoughts

There are worries about the increasing market share of Google, leading to a large number of sites increasingly depending on Google rankings for traffic. This could be dangerous, or even fatal. What if a slip up is made and a penalty is incurred? Or what if Google decides to overhaul its current system of ranking web sites? Even as competition heats up between Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, solely depending on a site’s ranking on search engine results pages will lead to a lot of money and man hours spent on optimizing various pages for various sites, with no long term guarantee of your site’s survival.

Branding connects you immediately to the man or woman with the mouse, and gives you cyber buzz as people and institutions talk about you, giving you millions of dollars of free publicity. And the easiest way to become a permanent fixture on the Internet is to become a permanent fixture in their minds.

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